Letters & Opinion

The Rattling Reality of the Joe Phenomenon (Part 1)

Image of NRC Chairman Earl Bousquet
Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

FOLLOWING the recent hospitalization of a still-recovering well-known Saint Lucian after being bit by a snake, I couldn’t help but note the amount of attention the story got, particularly from ordinary Saint Lucians, who galvanized it to the top of the local news headlines through all available hot lines and frequencies, in the process attracting the most comments posted online in the least time on a local subject.

It may or may not have been because the victim was ‘Joe Knows’, who everyone knows, but not his real name. He remained in the news for all of the eight days he spent at Victoria Hospital, during which traffic to his ward was ‘constero’, according to gateway security guards.

What we need to know…
The story was largely ignored by the mainstream media here, but sniffing the strong smell of public interest, I followed the scent, which led me to some very rattling facts we all need to know when talking snake-talk.

For example, India (officially) records the most snakebites in the world per year (81,000) and most deaths (11,000). But that’s also more or less half of the total global amount. In 2008, 90,000 people died worldwide, though the annual average remained at 80,000 — and 200 per day. In 2018, 421,000 bites and 20,000 deaths were recorded, but given varying reporting rates, researchers estimate the real figure can be as high as 1.8 million bites and 94,000 deaths.

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In Saint Lucia, between November 2007 and March 2018 there were 104 snake bites recorded, of which there were three fatalities in 12 years – an average of one every four years.

The Saint Lucia Fer de Lance
Saint Lucia’s only poisonous snake is the Fer de Lance (BothropsCaribbaeus) — also called ‘Saint Lucia Viper’, ‘Saint Lucia Fer de Lance’ and ‘Serpent’. It is also considered quite dangerous across the Latin American and Caribbean region and can take more lives than any other reptile.

This snake can indeed be dangerous. On average, it injects 105mg of venom in one bite, although a venom yield of up to 310mg has been recorded while milking them. The fatal dose for a human is 50mg – and one single bite has the power to kill at least 32 people!

This venomous snake thrives in areas inhabited by people — and lots of rats. It can help rid communities of rodents, but it’s more feared than revered because it can easily inject around 260 mg of venom per bite and some can even inject 800mg. Its venom also contains an anticoagulant and causes hemorrhaging.

It remains coiled-up and hidden in vegetation, then at dusk hunts along roads or trails through dense grass and forest. But unlike other large vipers, it isn’t easily threatened away and is more likely to strike.

Rarest and Smallest Snakes
A very interesting article is also posted online, byJeannette Victor of the Forestry Department, dated March 14, 2017 entitled ‘Facts About St Lucian Snakes, Including The Rarest in the World’. It points out that:

Here, the law only protects three of the four local snakes: the Saint Lucia Boa, Saint Lucia Racer and Saint Lucia Thread. But even though the Fer de Lance is not protected, it’s illegal to kill them within the forest reserve.

Snake diets include small birds and mammals and they are predominantly found here along the western communities (Anse La Raye, Canaries, Millet, etc.) and the eastern communities (particularly Dennery and Praslin). They may also have ended-up in other places by means of flooding, being transported unknowingly on a vehicle, or in search of food.

A Fer de Lance bite can be avoided if one remains vigilant in snake-prone areas and by wearing protective gear (like boots and snake chaps). But in case of a bite, one should stay calm — and ‘get to Victoria Hospital as soon as possible to be treated with the anti-venom available there…’ advisably calling the hospital ahead so it can be prepared for immediate application on arrival. However, one should NOT interfere with the snake bite in any way. And for those still advocating certain traditional approaches not yet proven here, the advice is: ‘Do not suck on it or bandage it, as this may make the situation worse.’

The article also offers the even more soothing fact that ‘Most persons make a 100 percent recovery, if they are treated within three hours or less.’

The article also enlightens about the four endemic local species:

‘TeteChien’ (Boa Orophias)
Locally called ‘TeteChien’, the Saint Lucia Boa grows bigger than the Fer de Lance and is the biggest here. It can grow to14 feet and can bear up to 70 young ones. It’s non-venomous and can be found almost everywhere, including on fruit trees where birds, rats and other favorite prey frequent. The local Boa enjoys basking in the sun — especially after rain when its body temperature needs regulating. And it got its local name ‘TeteChien’ (meaning Dog’s Head) because its head helps disguise it like a canine and often misleads its prey, which is then suffocated with its strong body muscles — and swallowed entirely.

Saint Lucia Racer (ErythrolamprusOrnatus): The world’s rarest and most elusive snake, it’s found only on the larger offshore island Maria Major off the coast of Vieux Fort, believed to have been wiped off the mainland due to heavy predation from the introduction of mongoose. But it’s now near-extinct, with less than 100 officially counted back in 2017. They are non-poisonous, can grow up to four feet long and feed primarily on lizards.

Saint Lucia Thread Snake (Tetracheilostomabruilei): This ‘worm snake’ or ‘thread snake’ is the second smallest snake in the world. They thrive on ants and termites, are non-poisonous and help improve soil aeration.

The author concluded her fact-filled article with some even more enlightening facts, including that ‘Our snakes all serve a purpose in the environment and a tolerance for them should exist.’

She added: ‘The venom produced by the Fer de Lance could be the cure for an illness [caused by snake bites] that we have been battling for many years, while the Boa could be effective in reducing the country’s rat population.

‘The Racer, on the other hand, continues to keep researchers interested and some willing to assist financially in the conservation efforts.’

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